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U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

More heat on Abbott over his anti-refugee action

Good. Keep it up.

“This is not a Democrat versus Republican issue. It’s not an immigrant versus native-born issue … it is not a religious versus secular issue,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo during a press conference with elected officials and leaders of refugee resettlement organizations. “We cannot turn our backs to the most vulnerable facing the most difficult conditions imaginable.”

[…]

On Tuesday, Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia said Abbott was wrongly conflating refugee resettlement, which involves an extensive State Department vetting process that can last three years, and migrants coming across the southern border to ask for asylum.

Both numbers have dropped dramatically and this year only about 2,000 refugees were expected in Texas, compared to 7,800 admitted during the last year of President Barack Obama’s administration in 2016.

Garcia noted that the federal government fully funds the initial resettlement of refugees and that the state pays no direct costs.

“This is a reprehensible decision,” Garcia said.

State Rep. Gene Wu, a Democrat who represents southwest Houston where many refugees are initially housed, said the governor’s choice went against his Catholic faith.

“Gov. Abbott had the choice to live as a Christian and follow what Christ said and commanded and he chose the opposite,” he said.

Opting out of the federal program means funding won’t be given to local organizations to resettle refugees in Texas, said Kimberly Haynes, a regional refugee coordinator with the South Texas Office of Refugees.

She said Abbott’s decision does not prevent refugees from moving here later, but meant the state would no longer receiving funding to help them integrate, including to find jobs and learn English. Most refugees coming to Houston are joining relatives likely will continue to come here no matter where they are settled, Haynes said.

“If someone is resettled here and the next day they want to come to this great state, they can take the bus and come to Texas,” said Ali Al Sudani, who came here as a refugee from Iraq a decade ago and is now senior vice president for programs at Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston.

See here, here, and here for the background. I don’t believe for a minute any of this will affect Abbott – he doesn’t talk to the public, so why would he ever listen to the public? – but it’s still the right thing to do, and maybe there is some level of heat that Abbott might feel. In the meantime, this whole fight may be moot.

A federal judge temporarily blocked a Trump administration policy that would have allowed governors, like Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, and other local leaders to prevent refugees from resettling in those areas.

The Wednesday decision from Maryland-based Judge Peter J. Messitte comes just days after Abbott became the first and only state leader to opt out of the program. Officials had until Jan. 21 to inform the State Department whether they would participate in the program after the Trump administration imposed the deadline in a September executive order. At least 42 governors, including Republicans, have said they would accept refugees.

“By giving States and Local governments the power to veto where refugees maybe settled – in the face of clear statutory text and structure, purpose, Congressional intent, executive practice, judicial holdings, and Constitutional doctrine to the contrary – [the order] does not appear to serve the overall public interest,” Messitte said in his ruling.

You can see a copy of the ruling here. I assume this will be appealed by the Trump administration, and as the original lawsuit was not filed in the Fifth Circuit there’s a chance this ruling could be upheld. For now at least, the madness has been stopped. NPR, Daily Kos, and the Texas Signal have more.

Bishops condemn Abbott’s refugee refusal

Good.

Texas’ Catholic bishops issued a sharp rebuke of Gov. Greg Abbott, a fellow Catholic, following his decision Friday to ban refugees from initially settling in Texas.

In a joint statement by the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops, which includes leaders from Texas’ 15 dioceses, the group called the decision “discouraging and disheartening.”

“While the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops respects the governor, this decision is simply misguided,” the group wrote. “It denies people who are fleeing persecution, including religious persecution, from being able to bring their gifts and talents to our state and contribute to the general common good of all Texans.”

“As Catholics, an essential aspect of our faith is to welcome the stranger and care for the alien,” the statement said.

In response to the bishops’ statement, Abbott spokesperson John Wittman said the governor’s decision won’t deny anyone access to this country.

“No one seeking refugee status in the United States will be denied that status because of the Texas decision,” he stated in an email. “Importantly, the decision by Texas will not prevent any refugee from coming to America. Equally important, the Texas decision doesn’t stop refugees from moving to Texas after initially settling in another state.”

See here and here for the background, and here for the full statement, which isn’t much longer than what was quote above. Abbott’s spokesbot’s assertion is both misleading and wrong, as Chris Hooks explains:

People accepted as refugees by the United States are by definition legal immigrants. They’ve already gone through an extensive vetting process by federal and international agencies, proving that they face great risk if they were forced to return to their home countries. They’ve waited years and years to find a new home, sometimes in dire overseas camps. Border security and federal refugee resettlement are wholly distinct issues, and it would be a lie to pretend otherwise.

The Omaha World-Herald hosts a database where you can find information about refugees officially resettled in the United States since 2002. According to the database, Texas has helped shelter about 86,000 refugees through the program, as the state added a total of 7 million new residents. Those 86,000 people account for about 0.3% of the total population of Texas. They’re spread all over the state, from Abilene to Woodville, but concentrated in big cities with preexisting immigrant populations.

These are not the people trying to get over the Texas-Mexico border right now. Indeed, very few of them come from Central America at all. Since 2002, no refugees settled in Texas came from Mexico. Two came from Guatemala, 47 from Honduras, and 267 from El Salvador. In fact, the most popular Spanish-speaking origin country is Cuba. Some 2,800 people fleeing the communist dictatorship found shelter here, just like Ted Cruz’s dad once did, through the federal program. Helping Cubans, of course, is a project with longstanding conservative support. By and large, the refugees America accepts are people who are exiled from countries most Americans couldn’t place on a map—like Myanmar, or the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

They have stories like Gilbert Tuhabonye, who spent nine hours buried under a pile of his dead and dying classmates at a schoolhouse in Burundi, waiting for death in a pool of fire and blood and caustic chemicals as genocidaires, his former neighbors, waited outside with machetes, before he broke a window with someone’s charred femur and ran all the way to a hospital, a track scholarship at Abilene Christian University, American citizenship, and a home in Austin. They’re fleeing vicious governments, ethnic cleansing, wars, climate-change-fueled disaster, and genocides. They’re artists, pro-democracy activists, faith leaders, muckraking journalists, and everything else you can imagine.

There is, of course, a hypothetical point at which a society begins to bend under the stress of refugees. The countries that host the most refugees are middle-income countries near war zones, like Turkey, Jordan, and Pakistan, and the accumulation of desperate people causes those nations a lot of problems. But we are far, far from that point. And it’s a truism that helping a single refugee is meaningful. The country, and Texas, doesn’t have to take everyone who needs help to do good. Imagine that there’s a civil war in Canada, and a million people flee from death camps. It seems clear that it would be better to give 100,000 Canadian refugees shelter instead of just 1,000. Just the same, it’s a better deed to give a home to ten rather than zero. Zero is clearly the least acceptable option.

The U.S. helps a very modest number of people every year, arguably many less than it should or could. The Trump administration has already gutted the refugee program—in the 2018 fiscal year, America accepted just 22,491 refugees, a number that could be entirely settled in Texas without anyone realizing they had arrived. Texas took in just 1,697 of that number—a rounding error, a smaller population than that of a large apartment complex in Dallas or Houston. It’s said that the population of Austin grows by 152 people a day, which means Austin has added more people since the new year than the whole state took in refugees in 2018.

This, Abbott says in his letter, represents a disproportionate burden, the state having already “carried more than its share in assisting of the refugee resettlement process.” He notes that Texas has taken 10 percent of refugees resettled through the program, perhaps because Texas has just under 10 percent of the nation’s population. There’s clearly no flood of refugees here, but you might ask, do these people themselves represent a disproportionate burden? Is this small number of people a huge drain on state resources? No. It’s certainly true that when they first arrive, many refugees need public help in the form of food stamps and access to health care, in the same way that you would need help if you were, say, a war orphan who had lost everything you ever owned and had to reestablish yourself in Belarus.

But the performance of refugees in America is closely tracked and quantified, and even the Trump administration’s own numbers show that most refugees work very hard to establish themselves, to integrate into our (extremely complicated and not-always-very-welcoming) society. Soon, they’re paying taxes. They learn English, their kids become doctors, their grandkids get liberal arts degrees and join sketch comedy groups—you know, the American dream. And they find ways to give back—just like Gilbert Tuhabonye did.

Perhaps one of the most head-scratching parts of Abbott’s rejection of refugees is that faith-based groups do most of the hard work. Helping refugees is not entirely, or even largely, the province of bleeding-heart libs. Much of the groundwork is done by evangelical Christians, people who might well have voted for Abbott, along with Catholic and Jewish organizations. “It’s gut-wrenching,” Jen Smyers, director of policy for Church World Service, told the Houston Chronicle. “It’s an abdication of everything Texans claim to stand for: freedom of opportunity, freedom of religion, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.”

If you still find yourself feeling uneasy about the prospect of refugees coming to Texas, then, finally, know this. Abbott’s letter doesn’t mean that refugees won’t come to Texas. It means that they won’t get federal help if they do. It means that, say, a female political dissident from Myanmar who was subjected to punitive gang rape and smuggled herself out in the lower reaches of a container ship may not be placed in an apartment in Houston near her cousin’s family, but instead in Fargo, North Dakota. If she then decides to move to Houston, she could forfeit federal assistance and be worse off, less able to integrate successfully. And the charities that could help her will be stretched thinner on the ground.

I’m old enough to remember when various Catholic clergymen made a high-profile vow to deny Communion to Catholic politicians – all Democrats, of course – who supported abortion rights. Mario Cuomo, then Governor of New York, was a favorite target. I thought that was a crappy thing to do then and it would be an equally crappy thing to do now, I’m just pointing it out to note that all things considered, Abbott got off easy. The Chron has more.

SB4 is what you get when you vote for Greg Abbott

This is me, shaking my head.

Duque, who is Latina and Catholic, represents two constituencies Abbott courted during his campaign. The same constituencies strongly opposed the sanctuary cities ban, which Abbott made an emergency item in January and championed throughout the legislative session.

Now, his crusade may have cost him the support of some Latinos and Catholics, who are promising to oppose Abbott when he runs for re-election next year.

“He says one thing, but does another,” Duque said. “I think this is a moment for the next generation of Latinos to come out and vote and elect someone who will be really honest.”

During Abbott’s State of the State Address in late January, he pointed out a guest in the audience, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the archbishop of Galveston-Houston and the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Abbott thanked DiNardo for his support on issues, such as abortion, that he fights on partly because of his Catholic faith.

But Abbott hasn’t publicly responded to DiNardo and other Texas bishops who oppose the sanctuary cities ban. The Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement two weeks ago saying its members were “disappointed” in the bill passed by the House and signed by Abbott.

“Immigration law should be enforced in a way that is targeted, proportional and humane,” DiNardo said in that statement. “This bill does not meet the standard.”

On Friday, the Texas bishops joined a chorus of other advocacy groups asking Abbott to veto the bill. Sunday night, as churchgoers were wrapping up their days of worship, Abbott signed the sanctuary cities ban during a Facebook Live video stream. Some Catholics took that as an affront.

“I’m shocked that the Governor chose to sign this anti-Latino, anti-immigrant, ‘Show Me Your Papers’ bill today on a day of worship,” Rep. Cesar Blanco, D-El Paso, said in a statement. “While many Hispanics and immigrants are attending mass, the Governor is signing a bill that will profile these people and tear apart their families.”

Here’s a letter signed by a large number of faith leaders denouncing SB4, which will have no more effect on Abbott than a letter signed by Hollywood celebrities. You’ve heard the term “cafeteria Catholic”, which refers to people who pick and choose which part of the dogma they adhere to? It’s often used derisively to describe pro-choice Catholics, but by any reasonable definition, it fits Greg Abbott to a T. He’s right there on banning abortion and discriminating against the gays, but one matters like immigration, refugees, economic and environmental justice and on and on, he’s no more devout than any Christmas-and-Easter-only churchgoer. Like the people who pray in public, he wants to make sure you know how super-duper pious he is.

And look, it’s not like he’s ever made any secret of his support of “sanctuary cities” legislation. If you thought otherwise, you probably also thought Donald Trump wasn’t going to take away your health insurance. All I can say now is I hope you’ve finally figured it out.

Greg Abbott does not speak for all Texans on refugees

Lots of people are moved to offer assistance to those who most need it.

Nonprofits that resettle refugees say volunteer turnout has increased — in some cases dramatically — since Texas Republicans first suggested they threatened security.

“It’s one of those rare issues where people’s hearts are really united in supporting refugees,” said Chris Kelley, a spokesman for Refugee Services of Texas, the state’s largest resettlement nonprofit with offices in five different cities. “And I think they see through the rhetoric.”

Kelley said his agency had about 100 names on its Austin volunteer list on Nov. 1 of last year, shortly before state leaders started trying to keep out Syrian refugees. That number has since ballooned to more than 1,400.

The group’s Austin chapter now has 30 “welcome teams,” volunteers who pick up newly arrived refugees from the airport, set up their apartments, help them navigate the town and assist in other ways. That is up from 14 teams in late 2015.

At its other locations — in Amarillo, Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston — the nonprofit says growth in volunteering has ranged from 30 to 50 percent over the same period.

That new interest has hit in waves, Kelley said, including in November, immediately after Abbott announced that “Texas cannot participate in any program that will result in Syrian refugees.”

The growth is not limited to that agency. Officials at Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston say they are seeing more volunteers each month. The group trained just seven volunteers in July but saw 21 newcomers in September and expects 35 more in October. Meanwhile, annual donations for those services have more than doubled over the past year.

Interest has grown partly because the organization has made more targeted requests but also “because people just want to help,” said Martin Cominsky, the group’s president and CEO, who suggested that even more Texans would volunteer if state leaders offered a more welcoming tone.

It’s a good thing that individual people with consciences have stepped up, because the state of Texas has now officially withdrawn itself from the refugee resettlement program. Which won’t actually do a thing to stop refugees from being resettled here, but probably makes Greg Abbott feel better about himself. Or something. I have no idea.

You know how I feel about Abbott and Paxton’s chest-thumping on this. So I just want to note for the record that Abbott and Paxton stand in stark contrast with the faith community on this issue. We already know that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops calls on “all Catholics in the United States and others of good will to express openness and welcome to these [Syrian] refugees”, not that it has had any effect on Abbott’s self-professed Catholicism. Other groups have now taken their appeals directly to Abbott. For example, every single Episcopal bishop in Texas:

Texas leads the nation in refugee resettlement, and a decision to pull out of the refugee resettlement program after nearly 40 years of peaceful participation is inconsistent with our proud history of welcoming refugees.

More than that, as Christians, we follow a Lord who calls us to care for those who suffer and to show our love for God by loving our neighbor. Our Scriptures teach us that in caring for “the least among us” we are caring for Jesus, and that “Perfect love casts out fear.” We stand in the Abrahamic tradition that insists on generous hospitality toward strangers and sojourners.

While vigilance against terrorism is a real concern, Gov. Abbott’s decision reacts fearfully and broadly against the wrong people, most of whom have given up everything to escape violence and terror and find freedom among us. This decision does not reflect the overwhelmingly welcoming spirit from faith and community partners across Texas. Every day we see Texans practicing their commitment to courage and hospitality by welcoming refugee families and helping them become Texans and Americans.

Also, too, a coalition of seventy (and counting) rabbis in Texas:

We, Rabbis from across Texas, urge you to continue to welcome refugees and not withdraw from the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. At this moment, with the number of refugees and displaced persons at its highest in recorded history, it is more important than ever for Texas to protect and welcome refugees.

Since its founding, the United States has offered refuge and protection to the world’s most vulnerable. Time and time again, those refugees were Jews. Whether they were welcomed to Texas by the “Galveston Movement” after fleeing Czarist Russia, or whether they came later following the horrors of the Holocaust, or the persecution in Soviet Russia or Iran, our relatives and friends found safety in this country, and in the great state of Texas.

Of course, I don’t expect this to have any more effect on Abbott than the USCCB’s position. He doesn’t care, and you can’t make him. I just want to note this for the next time Abbott brandishes his faith for political purposes. Like pretty much everyone else in the country if not the world, Abbott uses his faith when it’s politically convenient for him to do so, and he drops it like a bad habit when it’s not. We should all be clear on this.

Feds say No to Abbott on refugees

What now, Greg?

The federal government on Wednesday informed refugee resettlement agencies in Texas and across the country that states do not have the authority to refuse to accept Syrians.

The statement, made in a letter obtained by the Houston Chronicle, appears to mark the first time federal refugee program officials formally have rejected statements by governors, including Greg Abbott of Texas, that their states will not accept any Syrian refugees.

It also may signal that federal officials will place Syrians here and elsewhere regardless of governors’ wishes.

“States may not deny (Office of Refugee Resettlement)-funded benefits and services to refugees based on a refugee’s country of origin or religious affiliation. Accordingly, states may not categorically deny ORR-funded benefits and services to Syrian refugees,” wrote Robert Carey, director of the office, adding that states and agencies that do not comply would be violating the law and “could be subject to enforcement action, including suspension or termination.”

Carey’s two-page letter also emphasized that refugees seeking to come to the United States undergo heavy scrutiny over an average of two years of waiting, a point that President Barack Obama and other federal officials have been trying to make in recent days.

[…]

Carey’s letter came the same day that Obama made a special statement at the White House to reassure Americans that there is no specific and credible threat to the country right now. It also came the same day that the Texas Catholic Conference announced that its refugee resettlement agencies would continue to accept Syrian refugees and would work with agencies to ensure safety is upheld.

“The Texas Catholic Bishops encourage all parties – including governmental leaders, political officials, and advocates – to avoid impulsive judgments in setting public policies regarding the placement of Syrian refugees, the organization said in a statement. “The horrors of modern terrorism are frightening, but they demand from us a strong renewal of our faith and our commitment to Christian teachings and the common good.”

Another faith-based group, Texas Impact, has said it believes there is momentum toward finding a way to accept the refugees.

See here and here for some background. On the one hand, I can’t see Abbott caving in to the feds. His whole career is built on this kind of obstinate petulance. On the other hand, I doubt he wants to get into a pissing contest with religious groups, even if they’re mostly of the do-gooder variety and not suburban megachurches, who care about refugees about as much as he does. I still can’t quite see Abbott bringing down the hammer on faith-based organizations, but if that’s his line in the sand, it’s his bluff that’s getting called. I have no idea how this one ends.

On Texas and refugees

Greg Abbott does not speak for Texas.

Tens of thousands of immigrants have come to Texas to escape persecution or political violence, and Texans have often offered their hearts, lands and money to the dispossessed. What has changed that makes it so easy for Governor Greg Abbott to declare Texas closed to Syrian refugees fleeing the murderous violence of ISIS and other rebel factions in their homeland? (Of course, Abbott cannot keep Syrian refugees out of Texas, but he can make certain the state does not cooperate in their re-location.) I spent a few minutes searching old newspaper archives to see how Texas handled refugees in the past.

When Russia began a purge of Jews in 1888, a Texan named J.B. Brown offered to give 100 acres of land to each Jewish family who wanted to relocate to Motley County on the plains of West Texas. Similarly, in 1939, a search was made around Texas for land that might be purchased for the relocation of European Jews. The city of Plainview notified Governor James Allred that 46,000 acres could be made immediately available if needed. There’s no evidence that any families took these offers, but the offers were at least made.

In 1956, when Hungarians revolted against oppressive Soviet control, people in Dallas welcomed refugees. Eighty-seven were greeted at Love Field by a local delegation, with the Southern Methodist University band playing the Hungarian national anthem, and the Lone Star flag of Texas joined by the national flags of the United States and Hungary. As The Dallas Morning News reported: “Refugees from blood-drained Hungary representing such diverse occupations as laborers, musicians, teachers, knitters and typists, Saturday will land in hospitable Dallas—their peaceful haven after bloody riots.” However, one group of six refugees had refused to come to Dallas because they believed the city was still the Wild West that they had seen in Hollywood movies. It was our violence they feared, not us fearing theirs.

(Indeed, Dallas continues to exhibit its welcoming spirit. The Morning News reported yesterday that Mayor Mike Rawlings said “he didn’t see what authority any mayor or governor had to keep legal U.S. residents out of a city or state. He said no one has contacted him about Syrian refugees but, if they did, it would be ‘the spirit of Dallas’ to help in a crisis.”)

When Cuban refugees started arriving in 1961, Texas Methodists, Baptists and the Catholic Diocese of Dallas-Fort Worth organized to find them new homes and new jobs. “No church is too small to help meet the refugee problem,” the Texas Methodist wrote in an editorial. Will the churches of Texas be as welcoming to the Syrians now?

Similarly, Texas Quakers and Catholics in 1982 organized an underground railroad to help those fleeing violence in El Salvador find refuge in Texas by going around federal immigration officials. At one point, it was estimated that 25,000 Salvadorans were living illegally in Houston alone. Both sides in El Salvador’s civil war engaged in terroristic acts and death squads. Nothing could guarantee that some terrorists had not entered the country, nothing except the belief that most, if not all, of these people simply wanted to live their lives in peace, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

In the 1970s, Texas welcomed 27,000 refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia.

He does not speak for Christians:

A push by Republican presidential candidates to ban Syrian refugees “does not reflect what we’ve been hearing from our constituencies, which are evangelical churches across the country,” said Jenny Yang, vice president for advocacy at World Relief, an evangelical organization that helps resettle refugees. “Most of the people have been saying we want to continue to work with refugees, that what happened in Paris … doesn’t reflect who refugees are.”

[…]

The United States so far has admitted roughly 2,100 Syrians since the conflict in the country began in March 2011. To be allowed in, refugees have to undergo the most stringent security checks of any traveler heading to the United States, according to the State Department. Officials from the Obama administration on Tuesday began reaching out to the media and lawmakers in a bid to explain the screening process, which takes an average of 18-24 months.

Meanwhile, faith-based groups have also stepped up their advocacy efforts for refugees. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement expressing distress over calls by elected officials to halt the resettlement program.

“These refugees are fleeing terror themselves — violence like we have witnessed in Paris,” said the statement by Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, chairman of the conference’s committee on migration. “Instead of using this tragedy to scapegoat all refugees, I call upon our public officials to work together to end the Syrian conflict peacefully so the close to 4 million Syrian refugees can return to their country and rebuild their homes. Until that goal is achieved, we must work with the world community to provide safe haven to vulnerable and deserving refugees who are simply attempting to survive.”

Since the Paris attacks, World Relief has used a website to urge people to contact their governors to express their support for resettling Syrians. The Anti-Defamation League also has spoken out in favor of helping the Syrian refugees, noting that U.S. wariness to accept Jewish refugees during World War II is an example that must not be repeated.

I don’t know who Greg Abbott thinks he’s speaking for, but he doesn’t speak for them, he doesn’t speak for Fred, and he doesn’t speak for me.